Rules and Regs: Inspection Idea Fails Again in Florida

Also in this month’s update, an Indiana septic licensing bill meets resistance

Rules and Regs: Inspection Idea Fails Again in Florida

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When the Florida Blue-Green Algae Task Force finished its work a couple of years ago, it recommended that septic tanks be regularly inspected. Now that recommendation has been tossed aside by a committee in the Legislature. 

A bill to implement the task force recommendation, SB 1538, would have required owners of septic tanks to have them inspected at least once every five years, reported Florida Politics. In addition, the state Department of Environmental Protection would have phased in the inspection plan over 10 years. 

An amendment passed by the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources now limits inspections to large projects. The DEP would have to monitor the effectiveness of projects costing more than $1 million and intended to reduce nutrient pollution. That information would be included in the update for each basin management plan. 

The amendment and bill passed the committee without any votes in opposition and without debate. The Senate Appropriations Committee on Agriculture, Environment and General Government receives the bill next. 

Previous bills to require onsite system inspections died in committee in 2019.

Also under consideration in this legislative session is HB 1379, which focuses on septic tank pollution. For several years Florida residents have seen severe algae blooms that traced back in part to nutrients from septic tanks. 

This bill would require nutrient-reducing onsite systems on lots of 1 acre or less if a municipal sewer system is unavailable. Advanced systems would have to reduce nutrient pollution by at least 50% compared to standard septic. New septic tanks would be prohibited within areas covered by a basin management action plan.

Florida Politics quoted Roxanne Groover, executive director of the Florida Onsite Wastewater Association, as saying, “Innovative technologies are enhanced nutrient-reduction systems that haven’t been able to be utilized fully, utilized and approved here in the state of Florida. By working with the department on this process, we’ll be able to expedite and move some of these new technologies into the state.”

Also in the House, HB 827 would expand eligibility for grants to improve wastewater quality. All water bodies in the state would be covered by grants for upgrading onsite systems to advanced nutrient reduction or for connection
to a municipal sewer. 

Indiana septic licensing bill meets resistance

A bill that would have expanded recognition of the Indiana Onsite Professional Wastewater Association was changed to remove licensing language, but there are limits on local health departments.

Originally the bill said any person licensed in at least one county and certified as an inspector or installer by IOWPA may provide onsite service in any county. That language was removed. Rep. Bob Morris, R-Fort Wayne, who wrote the bill, told the Indiana Capital Chronicle that the state will move toward a statewide licensing requirement for installers, but the House is not in agreement with that yet. 

Other language in the original bill would require local health departments to issue an onsite permit if a professional soil scientist has said a site is suitable and if a designer, registered engineer, soil scientist or county-licensed inspector or installer has approved the design. A health department would have to withdraw an order to fix a failing system, or undertake a new investigation, if one of those licensed experts has found the system is not failing. 

The Hoosier Environmental Council is concerned about the bill, reported the Indiana Capital Chronicle. The council supported language that would have required an onsite inspection when a property is transferred and that would have created a licensing system for onsite installers. Indra Frank, the council’s director for environmental health and water policy, told a committee that the bill goes beyond allowing appeal of a government decision and puts paid consultants above local health departments. 

The bill is HB 1647, and currently legislators are resolving differences between the Senate and Assembly versions
of the bill. 

Maryland still looking for solution to prevent future backlog of well and onsite permits 

The system to permit wells and onsite systems is troubled, nor can state officials see the extent of the problem because there is no centralized database, reported the Bay Journal

Starting in November, the Maryland Department of the Environment contracted with workers from Maryland Environmental Services, a separate agency, to help clear a backlog of 56 onsite permits and 94 land evaluations. The onsite backlog was cleared this spring.

A varied collection of groups, such as the Maryland Association of Counties, the Maryland Building Industry Association, and Clean Water Action have called on the state to fix the problem. Local environmental health staffs have a 40% vacancy rate statewide, and a starting salary of $35,000 that is about half the amount offered in private industry.

A bill in the state Senate, SB 830, proposed standardized permit forms, creation of an online system to track permits, and a student loan repayment program for environmental health specialists. When the bill reached the Senate floor in March, what survived was language for a pair of studies: one on staffing needs, and the other on shifting permit authority to the state health department. 

Nestlé supports bill for onsite system to treat its proposed plant’s wastewater in Arizona

A bill backed by food giant Nestlé could create an entirely new class of water linked to onsite treatment. 

The company wants to build a $700 million plant in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale to make creamer, but the amount of water needed is too much for its supplier. Nestlé is backing SB 1660 that would allow companies to construct an onsite system and send treated water into underground storage, reported KPNX Channel 12. Under current law, companies draw water from a licensed provider, either public or private. Recycled water must be sent back to the licensed provider. 

Water experts, and cities around Phoenix, oppose the bill for two reasons. First, they say, the bill allows companies to acquire a water credit: one gallon of credit for each gallon of recycled water. By applying that credit, a company could draw more water than what it is entitled to take. For example, an entitlement of 3,000 gallons could be expanded to 4,000 gallons if a company had a 1,000-gallon credit, and this would allow overuse of the aquifer, opponents say. Second, licensed providers are subject to water quality testing, but companies would not be, and their recycled water discharges could pollute groundwater. 

Massachusetts town adopts rule for advanced treatment systems near wetlands

The Mashpee Health Department, on Cape Cod, adopted a rule requiring advanced onsite units within 300 feet of wetlands in some cases. 

Previous law requires advanced systems with UV disinfection within 75 feet of a wetland resource area, reported The Enterprise of Falmouth, Massachusetts. The new law requires advanced treatment within 300 feet of those areas for new construction, for any increase in wastewater flow, or an installation or upgrade of a system. 

Any advanced unit installed must meet a nitrogen limit of 19 mg/L.

Colorado county considering reuse of graywater for landscaping

La Plata County, in the southwestern corner of Colorado, is considering a regulation to allow reuse of laundry graywater for landscaping. 

A draft regulation is under review by the county manager, and there are plans for a pilot demonstration program, reported The Journal of Cortez, Colorado. Graywater would be released into mulch basins. 

The Southwest Basin Implementation Plan says the average person in the region uses 198 gallons of water per day. Statewide the average use is 164 gallons per day.

Small Illinois village rejects plans for sewer system

When the Rutland Village Board rejected a $5 million state grant to build a sewer system, local people cheered. 

The community is completely served by septic tanks with effluent draining to field tiles or drainfields, reported The Times of Ottawa, Illinois. One of the trustees voting against the grant said she didn’t understand how the village would afford it. 

To pay for the estimated $5.65 million sewer project, the village of about 250 people would have had to borrow at least $650,000, and it would have faced monthly maintenance fees of $5,300. The Illinois EPA would not allow the village to use money for onsite system repairs or upgrades. 

At a previous meeting, a specialist with the Illinois Rural Water Association said wastewater is discharging into a creek, and a lack of municipal sewer discourages new businesses and home construction. 

Alameda County vineyards push for sewer extension, onsite system replacement

Alameda County staff have been instructed to develop a plan to extend municipal sewer into the county’s wine country. The plan is due by June, reported The Independent of Livermore, California.

The county covers the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay and a portion of the coastal hills that separate the bay area from the state’s central valley. Vineyard owners are convinced that without a 5-mile sewer extension, their business will fade. 

Grower David Kent said growers have only 2,100 acres in fruit, down from a high of 4,000, yet still below the 5,000 acres projected by a development plan. A study from Tri-Valley Conservancy and University of California, Davis released in 2022 said that to survive the area needed infrastructure to attract mid-size vineyards and hotels and spas. 

Cost estimates for the project are uncertain but may be between $18 million and $20 million, to include replacing 110 failing onsite systems in Livermore to protect groundwater quality. 

New Hampshire town to gain more control over onsite regulations

The town of Fairlee adopted a rule to gain more control over installation of onsite systems. Members of the Selectboard say state regulations don’t go far enough to protect water quality, reported the Valley News of West Lebanon, New Hampshire. 

In order to be approved, any onsite system should be at least 150 feet from the main high water mark, and any previous system should be properly decommissioned, says the rule adopted by the board. The state doesn’t require specific setbacks, said Peter Berger, a member of the Selectboard. 

Part of the reason for this change, he said, is the lack of an inventory of onsite systems and the existence of nonconforming uses that predate state responsibility for onsite systems. 

Last summer, Lake Morey had an algae bloom that town officials said was the worst in recent memory.


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